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19 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

Some Polite Questions for the Bush Administration

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

A long-delayed plan to send dozens of U.S. military advisors to Pakistan to train its army in counterinsurgency could begin in a matter of weeks under a new agreement on a training base, according to the top U.S. military officer.

Excuse me, Bush Administration, sorry for intruding.  I don’t mean to be a pest.  Would you mind if I just asked one little question here?  Great!  How about two?  Three?  No more than that, I promise.  Thanks!

Okay, here it goes.  Again, sorry for the bother.




Okay, thanks.  Yeah, I did mean the caps.  Sorry about that.  You can go back to finding more dangerously nuke-ridden failed states to “advise.”

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19 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:15 pm

Diplospeak Translator: Understatement of the Day

Time for a condensed version of the Diplospeak Translator!

President Bush during his Hooveresque press conference today:

There will be ample opportunity to debate the origins of this problem. Now is the time to solve it.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  Oh man am I screwed.  As if Iraq wasn’t bad enough.  Now I’m being compared to a vacuum cleaner. At least Krauthammer still thinks I’m Truman.

Well in one sense he is — we haven’t had this much nationalization since Truman tried to take over the steel industry.

Wasn’t it Ross Perot who used to talk about a giant sucking sound?

More about this mess soon.

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

What You Might Have Missed: Petraeus/Odierno

We’re trying out a new feature here at Undip:  “What You Might Have Missed,” which will highlight stories that other stories have kept off the front page.

BAGHDAD - SEPTEMBER 16:  Outgoing commander Ge...Today, it’s the transfer of authority from Gen. David Petraeus to Gen. Ray Odierno in Baghdad.  Petraeus will now head Central Command, which oversees all U.S. military activity from Egypt to Pakistan, an arc that includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What I find particularly interesting about this story is that Petraeus and Odierno had completely different approaches to the occupation of Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.  When Petraeus led the 101st Airborne, he was praised for applying counterinsurgency doctrine in Mosul in a way that helped keep the region calm — until he left.

In Mosul, a city of nearly two million people, Petraeus and the 101st employed classic counterinsurgency methods to build security and stability, including conducting targeted kinetic operations and using force judiciously, jump-starting the economy, building local security forces, staging elections for the city council within weeks of their arrival, overseeing a program of public works, reinvigorating the political process, and launching 4,500 reconstruction project. . . . [I]n the book Fiasco, Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks wrote that “Mosul was quiet while he (Petraeus) was there, and likely would have remained so had his successor had as many troops as he had–and as much understanding of counterinsurgency techniques.” Ricks went on to note that “the population-oriented approach Petraeus took in Mosul in 2003 would be the one the entire U.S. Army in Iraq was trying to adopt in 2006.”

Contrast that with Odierno’s time commanding the 4th Infranty Division during the same period:

Odierno’s tenure as 4th ID commander in Iraq and his unit’s actions there have subsequently come under criticism from several sources. Many officers from the 1st Marine Division were critical of 4th ID’s belligerent stance during their initial entry into Iraq after the ground war had ceased and the unit’s lack of a ‘hearts and minds’ approach to counter-insurgency. Several authors have echoed similar criticisms shared with them by other military personnel in the theater. In his unit’s defense Odierno strenuously argued that the situation was that such an approach was required and subsequent insurgent activity justified the actions of 4th ID as former insurgents began to join the fight against Islamic extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, in 2007.

To this day, Odierno rejects these arguments, saying that the situation then required an aggressive approach.  That said, Odierno did spend the past few years helping Petraeus craft the surge, and it’s doubtful that Petraeus would support the choice of someone he thought could not build on his success.

There’s an old saying in sports that you’re much better off being the guy who replaces the guy who replaced the legend.  Odierno doesn’t have that luxury.  If he fails, he may find that he’s on a short leash, as Petraeus, Gates, and Bush are unlikely to let Iraq to fall back into chaos.

Photo: Outgoing commander Gen. David Petraeus hands over the Multi-National Force Iraq flag to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates as Gen. Ray Odierno looks on during a Change of Command ceremony at Camp Victory on September 16, 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq. David Petraeus, the American general who presided during “The Surge”, the increase in American military presence believed to have been critical to reduced violence in the beleaguered country, handed over his command today to Gen. Ray Odierno. (Getty Images via Daylife)

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

While You Were Filing for Bankruptcy: Pakistan

Has Bush just gotten us into another war?  According to a number of press reports today, the Pakistani Army has orders to fire on American troops should they cross the border from Afghanistan:

Pakistani troops have been ordered to fire on U.S. forces, if they launch another raid across the Afghan border, an army spokesman tells the Associated Press.

“The orders are clear,” Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas  said in an interview. “In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire.”

And they’re our ally.  Led by the guy we wanted to succeed Pervez Musharraf.

It looks like Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has suddenly decided to vacation in Islamabad.

Meanwhile, Jeff Stein over at SpyTalk suggests some troubling parallels to an earlier American conflict:

Pakistan is beginning to remind me of Cambodia.

Just as Pakistan gives shelter to the Taliban attacking us in Afghanistan, not to mention Osama Bin Laden, Cambodia in the 1960s provided a haven for the North Vietnamese Army, which was killing us across the border.

Just as in Pakistan, we “secretly” bombed Cambodia to get the North Vietnamese, killing innocent peasants.  When Cambodia’s prime minister resisted American pressure to oust the North Vietnamese, he was overthrown by U.S.-backed generals.

When we next sent combat units into Cambodia, there was a quantum leap of death, havoc — and radicalization — in the countryside, just as in Pakistan today.  Cambodia’s communists now found the peasants to eager to sign up, just as Muslim extremist leaders are finding today in Pakistan. . . .

Is something like that in Pakistan’s future? Nobody can be sure.  We do know that the escalation of U.S. (and some Pakistani) military operations there, much ballyhooed here for killing a few al Qaeda captains, is turning more and more Pakistanis against us.  And that’s a quandary for which there are no immediate answers, much less easy ones.

But we do know there’s one big difference between Cambodia and Pakistan.

Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

The analogy isn’t perfect.  We fomented the coup that brought Lon Nol to Cambodia, but in Pakistan, our guy got overthrown.  And there’s a big difference between a massive bombing campaign and a few cross-border incursions.  But it does make you think.

Undip reader Midwest McGarry, who raised similar concerns, also asks why American incursions don’t trigger the War Powers Act.  One reason is that both the U.S. and Pakistan officials are pretending none of this happened:

. . .the Pakistani and United States military publicly denied any such incident on Monday, and a Pakistani intelligence official said that an American helicopter had mistakenly crossed the border briefly, leading Pakistani ground forces to fire into the air. . . . On Tuesday, American officials repeated their denials that such an incident occurred.

If there were no incursions, there is no need to inform Congress as required by the War Powers Act.

But there’s another, more important reason.  Back in 2001, shortly after September 11, Congress passed a S.J. 23, Authorization for Use of Military Force:

[T]he President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. . . .

SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.

So you see, Midwest, the President already has the authorization he needs.

Am I the only one not comforted by that?

Maybe the October Surprise came a bit early this year.  So far, no new statements by either campaign.

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16 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:20 pm

Uh, Yes We Have

Andrew Sullivan earlier today:

Tina Fey is sexist? It is not sexist to point out that the Palin candidacy is a farce. A man with her non-qualifications, long, long record of demonstrable, outright lies and utter lack of interest in foreign policy would never have been considered for the role.

I can contradict Sullivan’s thesis in three words:  George Walker Bush.

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

While We Were Putting Lipstick on That Pig. . .

One of the tragedies of the current campaign is that the two candidates have not yet had a serious debate about America’s role in the world.  Both McCain and Obama have laid out very different visions — to oversimplify, McCain’s robust nationalism versus Obama’s effective internationalism.  But instead of debating the future of American foreign policy, the campaign has degenerated into discussions about such salient topics as lipstick, pigs, celebrities, and bridges.

Jeffrey Goldberg over at The Atlantic suggests that this isn’t a coincidence — McCain is pursuing a vicious campaign because he knows his worldview won’t get him elected.

Like many people who have covered John McCain, I think of him as a deeply serious man, preoccupied with America’s defense and its position in the world. So I’ve been confused for the past few days, trying to figure out why he’s allowing his campaign to make a circus of this election, leveling unserious and dishonest accusations about Barack Obama’s positions on sex education and Sarah Palin.

Then it came to me: The answer can be found in. . .John McCain’s philosophy of war, and in particular with the doctrine of preemption, which McCain still endorses. . . . McCain knows that preemption isn’t the easiest sell these days: “It’s very hard to run for president on this idea right now,” he told me.

So, what do you do when one of your core ideas is out of sync with the predispositions of the American public? You spend your days talking about lipstick on pigs. This might win him the election, but I’d rather see him debate preemption.

I think this is largely true.  Thanks to the Bush Administration, preemption isn’t exactly a popular concept right now.  It’s not merely intellectually bankrupt, it’s also despised by the rest of the world.  What McCain, Bush, Cheney, and I presume, Palin (once they explain everything to her) view as America asserting its interests is viewed in the rest of the world as exceptionalism and even imperialism.

Four more years of such a policy may destroy what’s left of American power and credibility in the world.  Right now, Russia is asserting itself, and they’re doing it by using the Bush playbook.  While no one is paying attention, Venezuela is quite effectively building a new anti-American bloc in Latin America (more on this in a future post).  Erstwhile American allies are beginning to reevaluate whether it makes sense to continue to make friendship with a weakened, angry, and often bellicose United States a priority in their foreign policy.  And perhaps most troubling of all, a strong and assertive China is confidently asserting itself — not merely by hosting the Olympics, but in a number of other ways, most notably through massive foreign assistance projects that just happen to give China access to the natural resources it needs to continue to grow.

Let’s be blunt:  nobody is really that impressed with us anymore.  We’ve become the annoying guest who insists on dominating the conversation but who has little of value to contribute to the conversation.  We’re on the verge of becoming the kid who was a star athlete in high school but who never reaches similar heights in adulthood.

It’s not only that we’re despised.  It’s that we’re increasingly a laughingstock.  If McCain is elected, it could be a tipping point.  Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, and a number of lesser states will see no reason not to organize in opposition to our interests.  We will find it harder to assert ourselves, or even to be heard.

To be clear, I’m not interested in appeasing or even appealing to such states.  But I’m also not interested in poking all of them in the eye with a sharp stick, especially when we do it constantly and frequently simultaneously.  McCain doesn’t seem to understand that there are a finite number of states you can anger before people start seeing you as the problem — even when you’re in the right.

It’s almost as if McCain wants to go it alone.  After all, that’s what has worked for him in campaigns.  Why not turn it into a foreign policy?

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:55 pm

While You Were Watching the View. . .

Don’t feel bad — I was too.  But meanwhile, the Administration continues its sightseeing tour of Pakistan’s NWFP.

The US military conducted another airstrike inside Pakistan’s lawless tribal agencies. The target of the strike was an al Qaeda-linked group called Al Badar, which is run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Unmanned Predator aircraft launched several missiles in the early morning at a target in the village of Tol Khel on the outskirts of Miramshah, the administrative seat of North Waziristan. Twelve members of Al Badar (or Al Badr) were reported killed and 14 were reported wounded in the attack, according to AFP. . . .

Hekmatyar runs the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, a radical Taliban-linked faction fighting US forces in Afghanistan. He has close links to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, as well as the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military intelligence agency.

The US targeted a Hekmatyar compound in South Waziristan on Aug. 13. Taliban commanders Abdul Rehman and Islam Wazir, three Turkmen, and “several Arab fighters” were reported in the strike. Reports indicated up to 25 terrorists were killed in the attack.

The US has conducted eight airstrikes and raids in North and neighboring South Waziristan since Aug. 31. Five of the strikes have been aimed at compounds in North Waziristan. Four of them were operated by the Haqqani Network. . . .

The Haqqanis are closely allied with the Taliban and al Qaeda, and have close links with the Inter-Services Intelligence. The Haqqanis run a parallel government in North Waziristan and conduct military and suicide operations in eastern Afghanistan. Siraj Haqqani, Jalaluddin’s son, has close ties to Osama bin Laden and is one of the most wanted terrorist commanders in Afghanistan.

Holy Bush Doctrine, Batman!

Looks like Bush is taking Obama’s advice.  Too bad it’s seven freaking years after he first should have done it.

Call me a cynic, but I can’t help believe that the Bush Administration (and the McCain campaign, for that matter) and trying as hard as they can to find and kill Osama before the election.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:55 pm

“Putting Government Back on the Side of the People”

An excerpt from Charlie Gibson’s interview with Sarah Palin tonight:

GIBSON: But this is not just reforming a government. This is also running a government on the huge international stage in a very dangerous world. When I asked John McCain about your national security credentials, he cited the fact that you have commanded the Alaskan National Guard and that Alaska is close to Russia. Are those sufficient credentials?

PALIN: But it is about reform of government and it’s about putting government back on the side of the people, and that has much to do with foreign policy and national security issues.

She then changed the subject to energy.

But hold on a second, Governor.  You said that “putting government back on the side of the people. . .has much to do with foreign policy and national security issues.”  I’m willing to take you on your word on that — at least for the moment.  But I have a few questions for you.

  1. Given that a majority of the American people believe that we should not have gone to war in Iraq, does that mean that you favor us getting out?
  2. Given that a majority of the American people want the United States to be an international leader on climate change, are you willing to support much more aggressive measures to combat global warming, even if it means cutting back on the use of internal combustion engines, thus hurting your state’s economy?
  3. Given that a majority of the American people support the end of torture, the closing of Guantanamo, and as you so quaintly put it in your acceptance speech, “reading their rights” to terrorist suspects, are you and Senator McCain in favor of ending the Bush Administration’s assault on civil liberties and the rule of law?  Would you prosecute those in the Bush Administration suspected of committing war crimes?
  4. Given that a majority of the American people want the United States to work within the United Nations system and with our allies, would you and Senator McCain support reengaging with the United Nations in a meaningful way, including an end to the rhetoric we saw at the Convention attacking the UN?  And if so, can you explain the presence of John Bolton as an informal foreign policy advisor to the McCain-Palin campaign?

Because, Governor, that’s putting foreign poicy back on the side of the people.  Because that’s what a majority of the American people want.

I didn’t think so.

By the way, on Pakistan, she agreed with Obama and contradicted McCain.

And she thinks we should go to war with Russia if it invades Georgia again (or Ukraine).

Last but not least, Governor Palin might want to check out this page before her next interview.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:03 pm

Seven Years Later: From Tragedy to Denial

Given everything going on around the election — lipstick, pigs, sex, wolves, seals and all sorts of other so very important matters — you might have missed this little gem, from yesterday’s White House press briefing:

Perino’s claim that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, not Osama bin Laden, was the “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks is so staggeringly and blatantly a lie that it’s hard to know where to start.  For the Administration to cover up its failure to capture bin Laden by arguing the detention of KSM somehow matters more, is akin to suggesting that Radovan Karadzic’s arrest absovled Soblodan Milosevic of any responsibility for what happened in Bosnia.

Whenever any leader makes a decision, there are two levels of responsibility:  strategic and tactical.  The person who identifies the direction that an organization or country or business is going to take determines the strategy.  The person who designs and implements the actions necesssary to implement the strategy  determines the tactics.

In this case, Osama bin Laden chose the strategy — attacking the United States.  Khaled Sheikh Mohammed decided the tactics — how and where to make the attack a reality.  It is just mind-boggling that the Bush Administration doesn’t understand — or is pretending not to understand — the difference.

Just in case it’s the former, permit me to remind Ms. Perino and her boss what Osama bin Laden said in his first interview (with Taysir Alluni, al-Jazeera’s Afghanistan bureau chief)  after the September 11 attacks.  The transcript is from Messages to the World:  The Statements of Osama bin Laden:

As far as concerns [America's] description of these attacks as terrorist acts, that description is wrong.  These young men, for whom God has created a path, have shifted the battle to the heart of the United States, and they have destroyed its most oustanding landmarks, its economic and military landmarks, by the grace of God.  And they have done this because of our words — and we have previously incited and roused them to action. . . . And if inciting for these reasons is terrorism, and if killing those that kill our sons is terrorism, then let history witness that we are terrorists. . . .

Making connections is easy.  If this implies that we have incited these attacks, then yes, we’ve been inciting for years, and we have released decrees and documents concerning this issue, and other incitements which were published and broadcast in the media.  So if they mean, or if you mean, that there is a connection as a result of our incitement, then that is true.  So we incite, and incitement is a duty. . . .

I say that the events that happened on Tuesday September 11 in New York and Washington are truly great events by any measure, and their repercussions are not yet over. . . .These repercussions cannot be calculated by anyone due to their very large — and increasing — scale, multitude and complexity, so watch as the amount reaches no less than $1 trillion by the lowest estimate, due to thise successful and blessed attacks.  We implore God to accept those brothers within the ranks of the martyrs and to admit them to the highest levels of Paradise.

Now I know that Ms. Perino is not a lawyer, neither is President Bush.  I’m not either.  But unlike me, they’re surrounded by some of the top legal minds in the country.  One of them just might want to explain to Bush and Perino the concepts of conspiracy and incitement.  It just might clarify things a little.

Then again, those are the same lawyers who told Bush that torture was okay.  So maybe not.

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:15 pm

Russia: Anything You Can Do I Can Make Worse

A few weeks back, Dubya sent a ship to visit Georgia.  The Russians were outraged.  Now we have their response:

Two Russian strategic bombers landed in Venezuela on Wednesday as part of military maneuvers, the government said, announcing an unprecedented deployment to the territory of a new ally at a time of increasingly tense relations with the U.S.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the two Tu-160 bombers flew to Venezuela on a training mission. It said in a statement carried by the Russian news wires that the planes will conduct training flights over neutral waters over the next few days before heading back to Russia. . . . In Moscow, Defense Ministry spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky refused to say how long the Venezuela deployment will last or say whether the planes carried any weapons. . . .

Earlier this week, Russia said it will send a naval squadron and long-range patrol planes to Venezuela in November for a joint military exercise in the Caribbean.

Everyone keeps saying it isn’t a new Cold War.  I certainly hope that’s true.  But let’s look at the evidence:

  • The U.S. and Russia are no longer cooperating on reducing nuclear arsenals.
  • Cheney just spent the past week running around Europe and warning against Russia (more on this later).
  • The EU is looking into ways to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and oil.
  • Russia is developing close relations with a Latin American neighbor of the United States, and has potentially sent strategic assets within striking range of the continental U.S.
  • U.S.-Russian space cooperation appears to be a thing of the past.
  • Both the Bush Administration and the McCain campaign no longer talk of Russia as an ally, but as a rival.
  • Russia and China have become more and more friendly since Putin came to power.
  • Russia has supported the establishment of two nascent organizations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), either of which could evolve into a rival to the United States/EU/NATO.

Is it me or is it getting chilly in here?

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:15 pm

The Perfect Allegory for the Past Eight Years

So about six weeks ago, right at the peak of The Dark Knight’s popularity, an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal argued that Bush was Batman.  Not as in the old Snickers “I’m Batman” commercial, but rather as in “he is a superhero fighting evil.” Whatever.

Bush isn’t Batman.  Cheney is Batman.   After all, they both live in an underground bunker in an undisclosed location.  And both have been known to claim that fighting evil requires stomping on a few civil liberties.

I know this is a fairly old story, but I thought of it again when I saw this panel from All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder # 10, written by Frank Miller (of Dark Knight and Sin City fame) and drawn by Jim Lee:

That’s not Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne; it’s George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

It’s also the past eight years of U.S. foreign policy summed up in a single comic book panel.

Dick Cheney thinks he is the Goddamn Batman.

Hat tip:  Slog

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

So Much for Mars

Further proof of the absolute inability of this Administration — and its allies in Congress — to think through the consequences of its actions:

NASA is about out of options for keeping U.S. astronauts in space after 2011.  Unless President George Bush intervenes, or whoever succeeds him in January immediately steps into the space arena, the dismantling of the space shuttle program will be too far along to reverse course. . . .

The three-ship fleet is scheduled for retirement in 2010. NASA wants to use the shuttle’s budget for developing replacement ships that can go to the moon as well as to the International Space Station. The new vehicle, called Orion, won’t be ready until 2015 — five years after the shuttle stops flying.

NASA had counted on buying Russian Soyuz capsules to transport crews to the space station during the gap. But in recent interviews, NASA administrator Michael Griffin said he has no hope Congress will pass the legislation needed for NASA to keep the Soyuz assembly lines running. . . .  “My guess is that there is going to be a lengthy period with no U.S. crew on (the space station) after 2011,” Griffin wrote in an email to top NASA managers that was posted on the Orlando Sentinel’s Web site.

The agency cannot purchase Russian rockets unless it receives an exemption from a trade sanction Congress levied in 2005 after Russia reportedly helped Iran develop nuclear weapons technology. Griffin has said the exemption to the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act, needs to be in place by early 2009 to keep U.S. and partner astronauts in orbit.  U.S. outrage over Russia’s handling of a dispute with neighboring Georgia has pretty much nixed any chance Congress will lift the trade ban again, Griffin said.

“Exactly as I predicted, events have unfolded in a way that makes it clear how unwise it was for the U.S. to adopt a policy of deliberate dependence upon another power for access to ISS,” Griffin wrote.

When I was growing up, there was nothing more exciting or romantic than the space program.  John F. Kennedy’s challenge to land on the moon by the end of the decade was both a great achievement and a wonderful example of what we as a nation could do if we put our minds to it.

In contrast, our policy today, as Griffin notes, is “deliberate dependence.”

Here’s the thing.  I think it would be cool for us to go back to the moon or to Mars.  But I also think that there are other things that are more important and more worthy of funding if we have to make difficult choices.  I’d love for us to do all the things we’d like to do, but those days are gone, at least for a while if not forever.

But if we are going to have a space program, is it too much to ask that it not be completely half-assed, utterly dependent on unreliable “third parties,” and hopelessly unrealistic about the gap between what we want to do and what’s possible with the money we plan to spend?

Ask not what the Bush Administration can do for you.  Ask the Bush Administration whether they can screw things up any more than they already have.

Maybe we can beg the Chinese to let us hitch a ride.

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Obama, Messaging, and Dean Wormer

Take a moment to watch this clip.  It’s from an Obama town hall appearance yesterday in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

At first glance, it seems pretty good.  He says that “there should be no contradiction between keeping America safe and secure and respecting our Constitution.”  He gets in a good shot in about the need to catch the terrorists before you worry about what to do with them.  And he has a great line at the end:  “Don’t mock the constitution.  Don’t make fun of it!  Don’t suggest that it’s un-American to abide by what the founding fathers set up.”

Those are all good points.  The problem is that along the way, he violates two fundamental rules of messaging:

1.  Don’t use your opponent’s talking points to frame your arguments.  Obama did that on three occasions:

“Senator Obama is less interested in protecting people from terrorism than he is in reading them their rights.”

“You may think it’s Barack the bomb thrower, when in fact it might be Barack, the guy running for president.”

“The reason you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism.”

When you do this, you reinforce people’s preconceptions about you.  If folks are already inclined to worry about whether you’re the right guy, then what they’re going to hear is that Obama is soft on terrorism, has a Muslim name, and is interested in protecting the bad guys.

2.  Don’t try to convince people with facts.  Obama spends over a minute explaining the concept of habeas corpus.  He sounded like a professor.  Most people don’t have any idea what the words “habeus corpus” mean.  But they do understand the underlying principle:  that sometimes, our government makes mistakes, and we need rules to protect innocent people from being thrown in jail indefinitely.  They’ll understand that much more readily than talking about how this right goes back to before we were a country.

So what should have Obama said?  How about something like this:

You know, all of us want to be treated fairly.  You could say that’s the basic idea behind the Constitution and the Bill of Rights:  do unto others as you would have them do onto you.  In this country, we give people the chance to be heard. We promise them that they won’t be tortured.  We say to them that they have the right to prove that they are innocent of the charges against them, and that they don’t have to incriminate themselves.

These are our core values.  These are incredible gifts that the founding fathers gave to us.  And these are the very things that our opponents are now mocking.  How dare John McCain and Sarah Palin suggest that what was good enough for Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and Benjamin Franklin isn’t good enough for us.

Other than our familes, our freedoms are the most precious thing we have .  They are what made this country great.  They are the promise that all men and women are created equal, that we are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and, as you said so beautifully, ma’am, that we are the sweet land of liberty.

John McCain and Sarah Palin, just like George Bush and Dick Cheney, want you to believe that our security is more important than our freedoms.  What you know and what I know — and what McCain and Palin and Bush and Cheney certainly should know is that we cannot have security without freedom.  We cannot have justice without freedom.  We cannot be America without our freedoms.

Those who suggest otherwise should be ashamed of themselves.

They should be ashamed for resorting to torture, for doing the very same things that John McCain himself suffered in Vietnam.  They should be ashamed for letting places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, instead of places like Farmington Hills and Peoria define who we are.  They should be ashamed for allowing waterboarding, beatings, sleep deprivation, and other techniques that we used to think only happened in places like Zimbabwe and Burma and Cuba.  They should be ashamed of themselves for believing that it’s all okay because the President can do anything he wants anytime he wants.

That’s not my America.  That’s not your America.  That’s not George Washington’s or Abraham Lincoln’s or Teddy Roosevelt’s or FDR’s or JFK’s or Ronald Reagan’s America.  Nowhere in our Constitution does it say the President can do anything he or she wants.  Nowhere.  That’s not Martin Luther King’s or Susan B. Anthony’s or Bobby Kennedy’s America.  That’s George Bush’s America.

It’s time we reclaim our heritage of freedom, our role as that shining city on the hill.  It’s time we say “not on our watch,” not here, not in Guantanamo, not anywhere.

It’s time that we say to Bush and Cheney and McCain and Palin and anyone else who supports them, we’re taking America back.  We’re taking America back to what it stands for.  We’re going to make America great again.  We’re going to be the America that respects people’s rights, that honors our core values, that draws so many people around the world to our shores.

Let’s start showing the world why we’re better than our enemies.  Let’s honor our founding fathers by returning to the values that make America America.

That would knock McCain and Palin on their butts.  It would force them to explain why they support the very torture techniques that  John McCain himself endured.  It would make them explain why they aren’t un-American.  It would require them to argue that they don’t want to destroy the Constitution or shred the Bill of Rights.  Tar them with every sin of the Bush Administration, and do it in a way that will leave them no space to reply except by repeating your arguments.

That, after all, is exactly what they’re doing to the Democrats.

So for crying out loud, Senator Obama, stop defending yourself and start attacking them.  It’s the only way you win.

P.S.  To my colleagues in the blogosphere and the mainstream media, this goes double for you.  Stop caring about how many times Sarah Palin lied about the bridge to nowhere and start talking about why Obama and Biden are the right choice. Stop parsing every lie that McCain and Palin tell and start talking about what their Administration would do to the country.  And if you can’t, then shut the hell up.

It’s the Dean Wormer Theory of Politics.  In Animal House, Dean Vernon Wormer tells Flounder, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

In politics, defensive, bitter, and angry is no way to win an election. 

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Russia-Georgia: The Other Shoe Drops

This isn’t good:

Statement by Secretary Condoleezza Rice

Washington, DC

September 8, 2008

The President intends to notify Congress that he has today rescinded his prior determination regarding the U.S.-Russia Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation (the so-called ‘123’ Agreement). As a result, there is no basis for further consideration of the Agreement under the Atomic Energy Act at this time.

The U.S. nonproliferation goals contained in the proposed Agreement remain valid: to provide a sound basis for U.S.-Russian civil nuclear cooperation, create commercial opportunities, and enhance cooperation with Russia on important global nonproliferation issues.

We make this decision with regret. Unfortunately, given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement.

We will reevaluate the situation at a later date as we follow developments closely.

For those not familiar with 123 agreements, they are named after Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which requires that the U.S. government negotiate and sign an agreement with a given country before commerce in nuclear materials can be established.

Although 123 agreements can be controversial in and of themselves (as is the case with the U.S.-India pact), they also offer a way to help promote nonproliferation and the reduction of nuclear stockpiles.

The era of U.S.-Russian cooperation on nukes may have just come to an end.

Hope Saakashvili is feeling more secure now — because something tells me that a few of those missiles are now pointed his way.

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Cuba and the United States: Politics over Principle

As I’ve noted before, I despise the Castro regime (both its Fidel and Raul editions).  I spent a year in the early 1990s documenting its use of psychiatric institutions to detain and torture human rights advocates and regime critics.  But I also oppose the U.S. embargo — I agree with the position held by many of the brave human rights and democracy activists on the island, who believe that it is one of the few things propping up the current regime.

So I have to say I was not surprised at the following report:

After days of pressure by certain Cuban exile leaders on the Bush Administration to temporarily lift travel and money remittance restrictions to Cuba to aid storm victims, the State Department has finally delivered a response.  The answer is no, the federal government will not lift restrictions that limit Cuban exiles to visiting close relatives in Cuba once every three years and sending up to $300 every three months.

In a statement issued Friday, the office of the State Department spokesman had this to say in direct response to the pleas for lifting restrictions: “We do not believe that at this time it is necessary to loosen the restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba to accomplish the objective of aiding the hurricane victims.Non-governmental organizations on the ground in Cuba are already mobilizing to provide such assistance.”

The issue arose last week when three prominent members of the Cuban exile community, Ramon Saul Sanchez of the Democracy Movement and congressional Democratic Party candidates Raul Martinez and Joe Garcia called on President Bush to lift the restrictions. Then Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama endorsed the exile appeals. A bipartisan group of congressional leaders, four Republicans and three Democrats, issued a separate statement urging the U.S. government to send aid directly to storm victims. The Republicans included the two incumbents Martinez and Garcia are challenging: Lincoln and his brother Mario Diaz-Balart.

So let me get this straight.  The Cuban exile community supports the temporary lifting of the embargo to facilitate the delivery of relief to the victims of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, but the Bush Administration refused — in all likelihood because they’re trying to placate the Cuban exile community.

The ongoing stupidities of this Administration will never cease to amaze me.

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8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:48 pm

Thought for the Day

President Bush must be relieved that Asif Ali Zadari was elected President of Pakistan.

Imagine what would have happened if the second place finisher had won.

Bush would have had to learn how to say Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui.

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6 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:45 am

While You Were Away: Hot for Condi

You may have missed it, what with Sarahpalooza and everything, but Dick Cheney wasn’t the only Bush Administration official exiled sent overseas during the Republican National Convention.

For some reason, Condoleezza Rice, perhaps second only to the Vice President on the list of people George Bush actually listens to, was sent to Libya to meet with raving nutjob new ally Moammar Gadhafi (or however the hell he’s spelling it this week).

Libya was never major-league caliber evil, but they did make it to the high minors a couple of times, particularly during the Reagan Administration.  There are some who still think they have the stuff to be Axis-caliber, but the Bushies have decided to make nice.

Not everyone — particularly the families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 — shares that sentiment, so apparently the Administration thought that sending The Condi to Tripoli in the middle of the Republican National Convention might mean that most Americans would be too distracted by McCainia to realize she was meeting with the Gadster (or is it Qaddster?  Khadster? GQKaaadster?  I can never keep it straight):

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi - once reviled as a “mad dog” by a U.S. president - on Friday on a historic visit that she said proved that Washington had no permanent enemies.

Rice’s trip, the first by a U.S. secretary of state to the North African country in 55 years, is intended to end decades of enmity, five years after Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction program.

“I think we are off to a good start. It is only a start but after many, many years, I think it is a very good thing that the United States and Libya are establishing a way forward,” Rice told a news conference after talks with Gaddafi at a compound bombed by U.S. warplanes in 1986.

For a couple of years now, the Bush Administration has bragged about how it forced the Libyans to give up its nucular nuclear ambitions and return to the community of nations.  But what we didn’t know was that Gadhafi had a secret motive for improving U.S.-Libyan relations:  love.

From a 2007 Al-Jazeera interview with the Lucky Gadhafella himself:

Qadhafi:  I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders. She beckons to the Arab foreign ministers, and they come to her, either in groups or individually.

Interviewer:  You are referring to the American secretary of state, right?

Qadhafi: Yes, Leezza, Leezza, Leezza… I love her very much. I admire her, and I’m proud of her, because she’s a black woman of African origin. I congratulate her on reaching this global status. When she beckons to the heads of the Arab security agencies, they come running. She’s the secretary of state, yet she heads the Arab security agencies.

I think we’ve just established a new gold standard in the category of creepy stalker boyfriend wannabes.

Dipnote, the State Department’s little blog that could (if it only had the proper clearances!), either didn’t see this little tidbit or has a much more twisted sense of humor than I thought.  This is the headline to their story about The Condi’s visit:

What Lessons Can Be Learned from the U.S.-Libyan Relationship?

Nudge nudge, wink wink.  Say no more!

But what do you do with a problem like Moammar?  I have a suggestion.  The Condi should invite him to play a round of golf.  And now that Dubya has set a timetable for withdrawal of our troops in an aspirational horizon for success in Iraq, he could give up giving up golf and join them.  Add Dick Cheney and you have a war criminal foursome!  Be careful:  if you don’t let them play through, you might be taking lessons from the golf pro at Guantanamo Country Club.

Better yet, Moammar could tour with Van Halen.  They need a new lead singer (again), and “Hot for Condi” has a nice ring to it.

Hat tip:  Somewhere in Africa

Photos:  Wikipedia

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5 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:30 pm

Obama, McCain, Palin, and Analogies

Assume for a moment that John McCain is a transitional figure, and that he will serve only one term if he actually does manage to get elected.  If that is true, where does the Republican Party go after he leaves office?

Sarah Palin represents a dead end for the Republicans.  A Palin candidacy in 2012 will be to the Republicans what George McGovern was to the Democrats:  a transitional, highly partisan individual who appeals to the base without significantly expanding it the way Reagan did.

To make an even more forced analogy, Palin is the Republicans’ Neil Kinnock, the Labor Party leader who preceded Tony Blair.  Kinnock was an old-school traditional Labor ideologue who helped solidify the base but could never translate that into electoral success.  It may be that Republicans have to go through a similar period where they enjoy the false comfort of an ideologue in charge, one who gets trounced regularly, before moving back to a centrist, more inclusive place in American politics.

To further strain the analogy to the breaking point, the fundamental question is who will be the Republicans’ Bill Clinton/Tony Blair/Bruce Cameron — the thoughtful, charismatic, and young centrist who pulls his/her party back into the mainstream of the political discourse.

Another way to look at it is that John McCain is to Ronald Reagan as John Major was to Margaret Thatcher:  the last exhausted gasp of a once-vibrant worldview.

There really are three types of political leaders in the United States:  base mobilizers (McGovern, Mondale, Bush II, Palin), centrists (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush I, Clinton, Dole, Gore, Kerry, McCain), and game-changers (FDR, Goldwater, Reagan, and perhaps Obama).

The problem for Republicans is that they will see Palin as a game-changer when in fact she is only a base-mobilizer. And with the (disastrous) exception of Dubya, most base-mobilizers don’t win elections.


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5 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:04 pm

While You Were Away: Russia-Georgia

Map of South Ossetia

The last two weeks have been nuts, what with the Clinton and Obama speeches, Hurricane Sarah, and all other things political.  And things are unlikely to slow down anytime soon, given the fact that the election is only sixty days away.

While Americans focused on the conventions (and Hurricane Gustav), world events didn’t just grind to a halt.  Over the past two weeks, there have been a number of important developments that are not only important in their own right but also may have a significant impact on the next President’s ability to govern.

Over the next few days, I’m going to try to highlight someJ of them.  Let’s start with Russia-Georgia.

In the past two weeks, the Russia-Georgia conflict has increasingly turned into a proxy (cold) war between the United States and the Russian Federation.  Russian President Medvedev has demonstrated a particular affection for Bushian bluster, making grandiose nationalistic statements about reestablishing a Russian sphere of influence that were meant as much for internal consumption as for global politics.  Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has taken several steps to bind the United States even more closely to the fate of Georgia — including a pledge of more than $1 billion in new (non-military) foreign assistance and a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.

John McCain’s protestations notwithstanding, most Americans still do not understand what is going on or why the conflict is relevant to their lives.

For all the jokes about Cheney being sent out of the country during the Convention, the reality is that his trip was deadly serious, designed to show the Russians that the United States would not be cowed in the face of its aggression.  But it also showed Cheney’s unbelievably blinkered view of the world:  in the end, the reason the U.S. is backing Georgia is because of the latter’s decision to send troops to Iraq.

The Administration’s actions are going to make it much harder for the next President to pursue a more rational, interests-based policy while at the same time defending Georgian sovereignty.  Of course, if McCain is President, that will not be a problem.

The bottom line:  this has become a game of low-intensity chicken, with both sides acting like 12-year-old boys.  And neither side really cares to behave like adults.  Georgia, which is largely (though not entirely) the victim here, is stuck in the middle, with little hope of serious support from the West or complete withdrawal of Russian forces.  The real fear is that some further incident will cause one side or the other to ratchet up the rhetoric in a way that we’re suddenly looking at Bosnia 1914 all over again — except this time, it will be with thousands upon thousands of nukes on both sides.

For those interested in the specifics, you can find a straightforward report on the events of the past two weeks after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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4 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:16 pm

Live Blogging John McCain

10:04  They got lucky — the game ended.  Video tribute just started.

10:05  “Momma’s boy” joke fell flat.

10:06  An extended version of his bio, featuring a few additional tidbits.

10:07  Video says he was tortured.  Glad they had the guts to do that.

10:09  Video goes out of its way to highlight his pro-life credentials

10:10  I’d like to see a timer on the Cindy and John videos — I have a hunch that the Cindy video may have run longer.

10:10  Iraq tied to security at home.  Again the nationalism that has so predominated this convention.

10:10  Mother Theresa is being mentioned more often tonight than George W. Bush.  But wasn’t she a community organizer?

10:12  Quotes from mother frame video

10:12  Voiceover from Fred Thompson while arena is dark.

10:12  Gotta hand it to the Republicans — they do know how to stage a show.

10:13  When McCain came out, they backlighted him like Charlton Heston in Ten Commandments.

10:13  Ovation lasts two minutes.

10:14  Why isn’t Cindy chanting “USA”?  Is she un-American?

10:15  He’s using a teleprompter, I think.  Looks like he has a speech too.

10:16  Also using a green screen in back.  Thought the Republicans learned.

10:16  Why are they throwing out a protester with a sign saying “McCain votes against vets.”

10:17  They didn’t throw him out.

10:17  Amazing.  He starts with a shout-out to Dubya, but never mentions him by name.  Didn’t see that coming.

10:18  Creepy smile alert.  Definitely using a teleprompter.  According to Ambinder on twitter he’s been practicing for six weeks.

10:19  Shout out to Cindy, his kids, and his mom.  But he needs to stop trying to smile now.  Nervous twitch?

10:20  Just noticed:  Sarah Palin’s kids are behind her, but I don’t see Trig.  Good.

10:20  I think he’s stuck — he keeps saying “I won’t let you down” over and over again.

10:21  Obama “has his respect and his Admiration.  We are fellow Americans.  That is an association that means more to me than any other.”

10:22  Then says “let there be no doubt my friends, we’re going to win this election.”

10:23  Code Pink protester being attacked and shouted down.  McCain trying to stop it.

10:24  McCain:  Please don’t be diverted by the ground noise and the static.  Didn’t know expressing your first amendment rights was ground noise.  Can’t stand code pink but this is ridiculous.

10:25  Shout out to Palin.  Her ovation almost as long as his.

10:26  Now doing Sarah Palin bio.  Palin nodding.  One of her kids yayed.

10:27  Who told Palin to sit down?

10:28  “Change is coming.”  Holy meme-theft Batman!

10:28  Blue background is making him look like the edges of his head are throbbing.  Don’t think that was the intent.

10:29  Have to say the practice paid off.  Much better with the teleprompter.

10:30  Promises to veto pork barrel bills.  “I will make them famous and you will know their names.”

10:30  Attacking Abramoff, tobacco, trial lawyers, union bosses (that one gets cheer from crowd).

10:31  I would rather lose an election than see my country lose a war.  Took 20 minutes to get there.  But he did not suggest Obama did the opposite.  He implied it, but did not suggest it.

10:32  Shout out to Petraeus.

10:32  Crowd responds tepidly to need to keep fighting war.  That was odd.

10:33  Is this falling flat with the crowd?  Certainly not going over like Sarah Palin.  Lots of chanting of USA, USA, USA, but other than that no huge, sustained ovations.  More perfunctory, as if there was an applause sign.

10:34  Looking at the bracelet of the hero who did not return from Iraq didn’t really come across on TV.  Made it look like he was looking at his watch.

10:35  “We were elected to change Washington and we let Washington change us.”  Good line, but tepid applause.

10:35  Audience really isn’t responding to criticism of Republicans and Democrats.

10:36  They liked the “back to basics” line, though.

10:37  “We’re all God’s children and we’re all Americans.”  Again it feels like the applause is tepid.  “Letting peoplle keep the fruits of their labor” gets as much applause and “pro-life” and judges who legislate from bench get huge ovation.  Much more than the lines on fixing what’s broken.

10:38  Standard tax, spending, and other conservative shibboleths are being contrasted with Obama and crowd is booing Obama’s alleged positions.

10:39  I don’t think the crowd booing is a good idea — makes them sound really angry and resentful.

10:40  My opponent promises to bring back old jobs… Huh?  This is coming from the drill baby drill party?

10:42  I think the community college line was intentional — anti-elitist.

10:42  This is a pretty wonky speech, even if a lot of it is the same as what he says on the stump.

10:43  Spending a lot of time on education.  Picks on “bad teachers.”  Wasn’t all of this solved by No Child Left Behind?  Just gave a shout out to school choice.

10:43  Republicans love “choice” in education, not so much in other areas.

10:44  Unlike Palin, McCain is naming Obama by name.

10:44  “We’re going to stop sending $700 billion to countries that don’t like us very much.”  You mean like Iraq?

10:45  He’s stumbled a couple of times in the past few minutes.  Not significantly, though.

10:46  Energy section of speech, with emphasis - quel shock! — on drilling.

10:47  “It’s time to show the world again how Amercans lead.”  How about starting by abolishing torture?

10:48  This speech is going on too long.  He’s not going to sustain audience interest the way Obama and Palin did.

10:49  Audience largely silent as McCain goes through a list of those America is unhappy with — with an emphasis on Russia and Iran.  Mention of Georgia gets only perfunctory applause.

10:49  He just said back-to-back that he’d work for better relations with Russia and called them lawless and an empire

10:50  Not afraid of threats, prepared for them.  Again tepid response.  Not a chant of “USA” in sight.  I think he’s losing the audience — not completely, but I bet many of them are thinking of Palin right now.  And they’re not on their feet.

10:51  Build the foundations for a stable and enduring speech.  Audience stands, but it’s not overly enthusiastic.  More like a state of the union speech than a rip-roaring partisan barnburner.

10:52  Shot of some guy looking at his blackberry.  Not a good sign.

10:53  You can feel the audience coming down from their Palin 24-hour Palin buzz.

10:53  I have the record and the scars to prove it.  Senator Obama does not.  Creepy grin again.  Crowd chants “zero, zero.”  But still not that enthusiastic.

10:55  I am starting to feel sorry for him.  This is falling really flat.

10:56  Now talking about his POW experience.

10:56  How is an angry crowd greeting him funny?  Nervous laughter?

10:57  His POW story is, as always, moving.  But he should have led with it rather than finished with it.  He buried his lede.

10:58  Reminding people he turned down the opportunity to go home gets some of the most sustained applause of the night.

10:59  Acknowledges that the Vietnamese broke him.  I give him a lot of credit for that.

10:59  You know what’s missing here?  Any reference to his faith.  No cross in the dirt story.

11:00  I have a very bad feeling that the Nielsen minute-by-minute tracker of the speech audience will see a steady decline.

11:01  Crack about Obama as “blessed” and “annoited.”

11:02  Call to service.

11:02  Defend the rights of the oppressed.  But no mention of how this administration has trashed rights.

11:02  Mentioned God, thanking Him that he’s an American.  But again, it was just an aside.

11:03  “Fight with me.”  Crowd finally goes nuts but he’s talking over them?  It really hurt his close — it seemed like he wouldn’t pause to build up audience response.

11:06  Audience cheered louder for Sarah Palin coming out than they did for McCain.  This is her party now.

In one way this speech was not unlike Obama’s — a solid, workmanlike speech.  But for Obama, that still means pretty amazing rhetoric that keeps his audience rapt.  For McCain, it means he lost his audience for much of the speech.  And he really has to stop smiling, or learn to smile differently.  His rebukes of Republicans really fell flat, while his stump stuff went over better.  All in all, pretty flat, except for the part on his POW experience, which was moving.  But he buried that, and by the time he got to it, I’m guessing that some of his audience drifted away.

In the end I go back to what I said before.  The crowd cheered more loudly for Sarah Palin tonight than they did for John McCain.  It’s her party now.

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